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Transportation buff: Replace treacherous Times Plaza with roundabout

Roundabout way: A transit architect said a roundabout would solve the “strange geometries” at the intersections of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Perkins Eastman / Jonathan Cohn

This is some circular logic!

The city should fix the notoriously dangerous nexus at Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues by turning the intersection into a roundabout, says a local transportation expert. Officials are trying to make some safety tweaks to Times Plaza — the awkward triangular pedestrian island at the heart of the havoc — but this ring-leader says the best answer is to go full circle.

“That’s what roundabouts are for — they resolve strange geometries,” said Jonathan Cohn, a transportation architect at Perkins Eastman, who also lives a few blocks away in Park Slope. “This is a situation that calls for thinking outside the box.”

Department of Transportation officials are in the midst of redesigning Times Plaza — and the crossings around it — following years of complaints by residents and pols, and Cohn and several supporters made their pitch at a community workshop on Wednesday night.

Their revolutionary idea is to turn the plaza into a circle and extend curbs out at each corner to create a European-style roundabout.

Pedestrians could shuffle around what would become short crosswalks over each street or, in one configuration, cross into the center of the roundabout and exit in any direction they please, Cohn said.

“If you could go out to the circle, then you could go straight to where you are going, you wouldn’t have to cross more than two times,” he said.

The junction is one of the most dangerous intersections in Brooklyn — between 2010–2014, motorists injured 78 pedestrians and cyclists there, killing or seriously hurting 13 of them, according to city records. Around half of pedestrians mowed down by vehicles were crossing with a green light.

It is even more perilous for drivers — car crashes injured 289 motorists in the same period, killing or seriously injuring 12.

Cohn and his fellow lords of the ring say the traffic-calming measure will make the crossroads far less hairy by forcing drivers to slow down and eliminating left turns.

“It slows traffic because they have to slow down to go around it and there are no left turns, so they all spur off,” said Park Sloper Michael Cairl, a longtime member of local civic group the Park Slope Civic Council. “Pedestrians only have to look in one direction for oncoming traffic.”

And they have data to back up their argument — a well-placed roundabout can cut vehicle collisions at a single intersection down by almost half, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

But transportation honchos didn’t come a-round to the idea — they are considering roundabouts elsewhere in the city, a department spokeswoman said after the workshop, but don’t think one is feasible at Times Plaza because there isn’t enough room.

But Cohn disagrees — he believes the city could “take a bit” off the block currently housing a PC Richard and Son electronic store on Flatbush Avenue, which developer Greenland Forest City Partners already plans to tear down and replace with an office tower as part of its Pacific Park megadevelopment.

The agency has its own proposal for the plaza and the surrounding streets, which officials revealed at the meeting — including installing pedestrian islands in the middle of each thoroughfare for people who get stuck crossing, widening sidewalks and extending curbs to shorten the passage across streets, and adding two new crosswalks on Flatbush Avenue.

About two dozen locals also shared their suggestions, which included turning the intersection of Flatbush and Fourth avenues into a “Barnes Dance” crossing — where signals stop traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross an intersection any which way.

There is still no schedule for the actual construction, but the agency will next take its proposal to relevant community boards.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.

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